The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - Sue Kit­tek Sue Kit­tek is a free­lance gar­den colum­nist, writer, and lec­turer. Send ques­tions to Gar­den Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Gar­den Keeper, The Morn­ing Call, P.O. Box 1260, Al­len­town, PA 18105.

I am see­ing more and more of this grow­ing in my grass than ever be­fore. It is start­ing to con­cern me be­cause I don’t know what it is. I have done ton of re­search and feel it is poison ivy. Un­for­tu­nately it is grow­ing where the grass has been mowed. I won­der if you have any in­for­ma­tion on poison ivy you can share with me and if ei­ther you or any­one else is hav­ing the same prob­lem. I am cur­rently afraid to walk in my grass. Thank you. Sin­cerely: — Crys­tal from Bath

The first step in deal­ing with poison ivy (Tox­i­co­den­dron rad­i­cans) is to iden­tify it. Young poison ivy plants are of­ten con­fused with sev­eral other com­mon plants. I rec­om­mend the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Ex­ten­sion site, Iden­ti­fy­ing Poison Ivy (https://ex­ten­­ti­fy­ing-poi­sonivy) for guid­ance.

Iden­tify poison ivy by its com­pound leaflet, three leaflike lobes. The mid­dle leaflet is larger than the other two and has a longer stem. The other two have al­most no stem and ap­pear di­rectly across from each other. The leaf veins al­ter­nate along the main leaf vein. Young leaves may be shiny. The leaf edges or mar­gins can be toothed, lobed or al­most smooth. The plants vine in the shade, but ap­pear more like a bush in sun­light. These peren­nial plants climb trees and struc­tures us­ing aerial roots that make the stem of older plants ap­pear hairy. The leaves turn yel­low or a bril­liant beau­ti­ful shade of red.

Poison ivy pro­duces white berries that are a source of food for many song­birds dur­ing the fall and win­ter. All parts of the plant con­tain urush­iol, the ir­ri­tant that causes in­flam­ma­tion, blis­ters and rashes in many peo­ple.

Plants of­ten con­fused with poison ivy in­clude: Vir­ginia creeper, Ja­pa­nese hon­ey­suckle, box­elder seedlings, In­dian straw­berry, bram­bles, Jack-in-thep­ul­pit and clema­tis. So be sure what you have is poison ivy.

When deal­ing with poison ivy, make sure that all parts of your body are cov­ered. There are treat­ments that cover the skin be­fore ex­po­sure (i.e., Ivy Block) and others that wash off the oil af­ter con­tact (i.e., Tecnu). Note that the oil will re­main ac­tive on any clothes, shoes, tools, or pets that touch it. All of these should be washed or dis­carded to re­move the oil.

One sim­ple method of con­trol is to cover your hand with a plas­tic bag and pull it over the plant as you re­move it. Large vines on trees should be cut at the base and a por­tion of the stem re­moved to make sure it doesn’t re­grow. The vines can be re­moved later, af­ter they die off and dry out. The re­main­ing root should be painted with her­bi­cide. Mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions may be nec­es­sary to kill the root, so ob­serve and treat any re­sprout­ing. In ex­treme cases, it may be nec­es­sary to treat smaller plants with an her­bi­cide. In ar­eas that con­tain other de­sir­able plants, place a plas­tic bag over the plant and spray into the bag.

Dis­posal is also a prob­lem, as the ir­ri­tant re­mains ac­tive for sev­eral years. Do not burn poison ivy. It re­leases the ir­ri­tant into the air and can cause ex­treme med­i­cal prob­lems.

As far as com­post­ing, I would not rec­om­mend putting it into a home com­post pile. The pulled plants can re­root in the pile, and the oils, even in dead plants, re­main ac­tive in the com­post for sev­eral years. When it comes to a com­mer­cial or mu­nic­i­pal com­post pile, the data are mixed. Some sources say that shred­ding the plants be­fore com­post­ing will shorten the break­down, but it also can coat the ma­chines used with oil and cre­ate an oil-laden va­por dur­ing the shred­ding.

Ob­vi­ously, the plant and the oils do break down over time. If not, we would be in­un­dated with poison ivy. Some sources en­cour­age bury­ing the plants af­ter they die. Others ad­vo­cate dis­pos­ing of the plants in plas­tic bags with the trash. I vote for trash dis­posal.

Ja­pa­nese stilt grass fol­low-up Re­gard­ing Ja­pa­nese stilt­grass — you say it should not be com­posted. Would it be OK to take it to a mu­nic­i­pal mulch/ com­post fa­cil­ity? They pro­duce mulch/ com­post at much hot­ter tem­per­a­tures than a back­yard pile; would that kill the seeds? I’ve never had any prob­lems with mulch or com­post from the Beth­le­hem

fa­cil­ity as far as im­port­ing weeds. My ques­tion could equally ap­ply to poison ivy – I know that any part of the plant or root can cause a rash. Does the mu­nic­i­pal com­post­ing process ren­der it harm­less? Thank you for your col­umn – I en­joy it and have learned a lot. Keep up the good work! — Kath­leen Kon­rad

As Kath­leen notes, a com­mer­cial or mu­nic­i­pal com­post pile is gen­er­ally much hot­ter than most back­yard piles. These higher tem­per­a­tures are gen­er­ally suf­fi­cient to kill weed seeds. As far as poison ivy, as men­tioned in the ear­lier re­sponse, the jury is still out. While it will break down even­tu­ally, the oils may sur­vive the com­post­ing for a sea­son or two.


Poison ivy can be iden­ti­fied by its three leaflike lobes. The mid­dle leaflet is larger than the other two and has a longer stem. The other two have al­most no stem and ap­pear di­rectly across from each other.

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